« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

Critic's notebook: Vanity exhibitions are usually incoherent

October 9, 2010 | 10:00 am

Samson and the Philistine © The Huntington I don't recall ever having seen a private collection show at an art museum that made a lick of sense. One big problem: Usually the only thing that unites the very disparate, even ad hoc array of paintings, sculptures, drawings and other works of art is that the same person owns them all.

That, and the common fact that the museum really wants them.

Museum professionals rarely say so outright, but institutional envy is what is typically on display. Like Adam and Eve grasping for some leaves, all kinds of rationales are invented as flimsy cover for what often amounts to plain old-fashioned covetousness.

Despite the incoherence, some museums keep trying private collection shows anyhow. Three have opened at major American museums in the last few weeks.

On Sunday I'll have a story on why these undertakings -- more tellingly called vanity exhibitions -- are as cheesy an idea now as they've ever been.

-- Christopher Knight


Photo: "Samson and the Philistine," perhaps by Baccio Bandinelli (1488-1560); credit: Peter Marino Collection, © The Huntington Library

Comments () | Archives (8)

This is a ridiculous piece. Writing something like this with no explanations, no examples, or no arguments is a silly waste of space.

Clare, the last sentence of this blog post says: "On Sunday I'll have a story on why these undertakings -- more tellingly called vanity exhibitions -- are as cheesy an idea now as they've ever been." The sentence includes a link to the roughly 1,600-word Sunday story, which includes plenty of explanation and examples.

You can also find it here: http://lat.ms/dzAyvm

i think i love you

Agree with @Clare... meaningless comment without specific examples. Just saw the tip of the iceberg of the Fisher Collection at San Francisco MOMA which would NOT have proved that point!

If these are such terrible shows, and they are, then write a review of the work, and stop with the whining about curators, too damn many of those fools as is. This eliminates their need, going back to how it used bo be before the contempt era when very few one artist shows existed. And sucking up to collectors for loans became the reason for all the parties and now Society Page receptions that art has become. let them have such shows, and nI can avoid them. Better than another damn Picasso show built off of one great painting, perhaps three more quality ones, and a buncha trash that gets those donators more $$$. Thats all about marketing, which is what curators and reviewers do now. Where is the critique? Do YOUR job.

Or perhaps you are just protecting you and your buddies jobs. You dont even mention the most important "vanity" show in recent memory, that of Walter Annenbergs collection at the Norton Simon. We lost it to the Met as it was definitely the biggest competition for a great collection, even if over several deacades and styles from Courbet to Braque. private collections reflect the vision of the collector, when trash, say so. when great, appreciate it, and they are of far higher quality, or tackiness, and cohesivemness of Emotion, Spirit, and technique than some mental game shows of today. Besides, there is so much wasted wall space from all the myriads of art museums, out there, they ahve to find something worthwhile to put up, its not like we are in an era of artistic giants. Dwarves and hobbits is more like it.

To Donald Frazell: The Annenberg Collection was never shown at the Norton Simon Museum. However, it was shown 20 years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

To Ann Tracy: The Fisher show is not a private collection exhibition; the show was arranged after an agreement was forged between SFMOMA and the Fisher estate to house the collection at the museum for the next 100 years.

My bad. Doesn't change anything.

Save the Watts Towers, Nuestro Pueblo, tear down the decadent Ivories


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.